Checking in with ... Minnesota's Tim Davis
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Minnesota's return to its roots as a power run team began the moment head coach Tim Brewster picked up the phone to call Tim Davis.
An accomplished offensive line coach for teams like USC and Wisconsin, Davis did things one way only, and that's exactly what Brewster wanted for the Gophers. Hired days after the regular season, Davis, who previously served on Nick Saban's staff at Alabama, made an instant impact on the Gophers' offensive linemen during their preparation for the Insight Bowl.
The full effect of his presence likely won't be felt until the 2009 season, as Minnesota shakes things up with a new offensive coordinator (Jedd Fisch) and a new philosophy. Fisch will call plays, but Davis will coordinate the rushing attack. It will be interesting to see how the two men work together.
I caught up with Davis earlier this week to discuss his vision for Minnesota and the outlook for the future.
Coach Brewster hired Jedd last month. How have those meetings gone so far?
Tim Davis: Jedd's been awesome. He adds a lot to it. I appreciate his experience and everything that he does. He's been good.
How close are you two in terms of offensive philosophy, background, what you look for?
TD: We're actually pretty close. They ran more of a power offense at Baltimore [Ravens] and then he also ran the zone offense at Denver [Broncos], and I've done both of those. So all the schemes and stuff like that are real close. What he does and what he says, it's all been pretty good. It's coming together nicely.
How much of the run game are you overseeing in those meetings, or is it more him and you're contributing?
TD: He kind of leaves it up to me, and then I draw from his experience and my experience and we're putting it together. He's obviously the offensive coordinator, so it's got to roll off his lips. He's got to be able to call it. I've got to be able to install the run, which I think is good for what we do and what we can do. And then he adds the real technical part of how to fit it in with the rest of the passing game. We're working together real good.
I tell him what I think we should run, he draws from his background, we tweak it over here, we tweak it over there, and then off we go.
How much of what you wanted to run were you able to install before the bowl game? I know you arrived at a bit of a strange time [late November].
TD: It was kind of tough. I put the whole thing in, and then I added to the [coordinator] who was already here, Mike [Dunbar]. And we changed a little bit from what they were doing. But it actually ended up being a little bit of each, what he was doing and what I was doing. What you can't do is put the kids into a situation where it's so new that they become the third-best thing about it. The coaches understand all of it, but you've got to make sure that the kids do. You'd love to jump in with both feet, and I'm one of those guys, but you have to temper that.
When did coach Brewster first approach you about the job?
TD: First he called Nick [Saban] and Nick came and talked to me and then he called me and I knew a guy that we both have a connection to. Hudson Hauck worked with me with the Miami Dolphins and Brew had worked with him with the San Diego Chargers. That's how Brew got my name. And then I talked to him and I immediately liked him on the phone. I immediately thought, 'God, I can coach for this guy.' He sounded like me. So I was really fired up, and I still am. He's brought a lot of energy to this program, and he's really easy to work for.
TD: Exactly. I was all for it. I said, 'Hell yeah, what are you kidding? I'm all for it.' And partially because I really had never had a background in the other part, the spread part. It's a whole different philosophy that's been very successful. But it was fun to talk to a guy who had the same things that I had in mind.
It was somewhat of a dramatic change for Minnesota, going back to what the program had done for the early part of this decade on offense.
TD: His deal to me was, 'What can you bring to the table?' He had done extensive research on me, like he does for all of his guys. He calls head coaches, everybody. And he said, 'I know you've done this. Let's talk about it a little bit more.' And when I went there and talked to him, I figured, 'You can't get any better than this.' I was really excited.
I spoke to [guard] Ned Tavale in December about how the line's identity totally changed after you arrived. How did those first few practices go with the linemen?
TD: I told them when I first got here that it's like a job interview. I'm the new boss. This is what my expectation level is, and you're trying out for a new job. I told them, 'You have to put your best foot forward and do it every day.' I explained my philosophy and what I'm all about and then we have to have an identity. I can't hope to be who they were. I've got to be me. So what I do is tell them who I am and this is where we're going with this. I always speak up front with them. I don't try to B.S. them, because I don't want to be B.S.-ed.
I tell them, 'This is what we're trying to build here. This is what we can do. These are the things I expect.' And I don't count any past experience, or how they've been before. I start from square one because I don't know them unless I've worked with them face to face. I can watch them on tape, but it's a totally different system. When I put my hands on them, that's when I can get a good feel for them. That's how you find out what you've got.
You can see on tape what their effort level is, what they're being taught, and if they do that, that's right. But you can only do what you want to do by working with them in person.
With them having done things a certain way for a few years and now working in a totally different way, will it take a full offseason for your plan to really sink in?
TD: The timetable obviously is the first game in the fall. By that time, if we're not too sure, then we've got a problem. I think just from seeing them and seeing the way they're working, they're real hard workers, especially Ned. They want to do well. What happens is, the older players you have that have been in the system, the harder it is for them to change. The easy ones are the young guys. You can change those guys.
I'm lucky because I've got all young guys. Had I been here and it was all old guys, now it's a problem. That's just my personal experience. But they're all young. A lot of them, it was like working with a brand-new guy. You have to break down what they have to do, break down what the technique is, break down what they're trying to do and then add that to the philosophy of what you're trying to teach. And then from there, it's good. Everything picks up.
It's good to get the energy in there. It's good to get all the terminology in there. It's good to have all that stuff as soon as yo
u can, so you can use it day to day. And then hopefully, by Syracuse the first day, you'll be good.
A lot of offensive linemen tell me they like the power run, they like going forward instead of backward. Is this an easy sell for you, this style of play?
TD: No question. There's a few of them that had been here before they put [the spread offense] in. They had been to a point where they ran zone and they ran power and they were downhill. Some of them came from running that in high school. It's an easy sell because now you can put everything on the backs of the offensive linemen, have them create ownership of the offense. That's what you do when you're a tough, hard-nosed type of a deal.
I'm not saying the spread doesn't do that, but in the spread, you take it out of the hands of the guys up front and you put it in the hands of the guy with the ball, which is the quarterback. It's a lot like the option was back in the day. So how good is that guy? With ours, we put more of an identity on the [linemen] we've got. 'OK, this is what we're running, this is what they're running, now we've got to get two yards.'
You've coached at a lot of prominent places. Is this a tougher challenge in the sense of having to change an entire system, as opposed to teams like Wisconsin that used the power run?
TD: A little bit, but not so much. You've got to get guys that believe, and we've got that. We've got guys that believe and they want to be good. It just takes a little time to install all of that. And then you have to recruit to what you're trying to do, maybe a bigger guy. But the kids here now, shoot, they're buying into it. They bust their [butts] and they work hard and they'll do what you want them to do. You've just got to clarify what you're trying to do, make the rules easy, and they'll buy into it.
Because they can see it. They can see the success in front of them. And by success, I mean showing up every day, doing this, this and this and then you're going to get here. And then you have the other coaches on your staff doing what you want to do. That's what Jedd brings to the table, along with the rest of the guys on offense. We're all thinking the same and talking the same.